Although classed as straightforward fantasy, really Imaginarium resides within a realm of magic realism, set against a grimy London backdrop less believable than that of a snow dome. It is difficult to criticize Terry Gilliam’s colossal film though because it grants itself such a dazzling carte blanche with regards to (brutally mainstream) experimentation and (largely unsustained) extended metaphors. Confused? You should be. This movie is hard work, and that’s not to say it’s particularly intelligent.
Thankfully Heath Ledger is as strong as ever, bringing together the linguistic craftsmanship that he first demonstrated in Brokeback Mountain and the atmospheric acupuncture that allured us all in The Dark Knight. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell make a good collaborative job of the scenes Ledger sadly didn’t live to shoot, even if Farrell’s performance leaks a teeny Irish twang.
However one relative newcomer in Imaginarium, Andrew Garfield, disappoints. His performance looks at worst - improvised, and at best - like watching a rehearsal. Garfield’s movements are wooden and his lines are unconvincing. Luckily for him, the movie’s arthouse aspirations will perhaps allow him to pass off these weaknesses as deliberate. I certainly hope he makes a better job as Tommy in Never Let Me Go. I had such high hopes for him, oh well.
The immortal Vern Troyer will split audience opinions too. My opinion? I think 'Mini Me' is still too hard for Troyer to shake-off, he’s firmly type-cast within comedic roles, he’s demanding on viewers and his voice grates. Is that PC? I don’t know, but Troyer certainly ain’t.
The dream sequences are by far the strongest scenes of Imaginarium – amusing, exciting and thought-provoking. The graphics are really relishable as characters drift amongst oversized designer shoes, or scramble up never-ending ladders in a pastoral utopia.
All together, a Tim Burton movie without Tim Burton, glossed with fashionista touches and washed down with weak politics. Gilliam’s writing is nothing against Pratchett or Angela Carter.
Interestingly, it is supermodel Lily Cole who saves Imaginarium and rightly becomes its major focus. Her mesmerizing multi-million beauty carries her through a slow start, but by the second half the audience are hanging onto her every word, their wish is her face’s command. She doesn't rely on her looks in a Mena Suvari sense either, but cultivates her beauty to the extent that she almost enters Bette Davis territory. Good enough to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress? Probably not, but possibly.
I guess Tom Waits deserves a mention, musical genius and all that, but most popcorn scoffing movie-goers will probably think he was John Malkovich anyway.
For my first thoughts on Andrew Garfield, read this old post on Never Let Me Go (currently in post-production and due out next year) - http://jackcullen.blogspot.com/2009/04/never-let-me-go-movie-starring-keira.html